Original Sin, Capitalism, and Socialism

Suprisingly to some of you, I hold a decently historical and orthodox view of original sin. Overall, it seems to me that humans are born in a state of sin that is inherited in some way– I’m not tied in to any particular theory on transmission, in fact they all seem a little off and crazy.

Recently, I’ve been discussing the ideas of capitalism and socialism with a highschool senior in my former youth ministry. Our discussion have made me take a longer look at the ideas of capitalism and socialism and how each looks at the idea of sin.

From what I can tell from my research, capitalism seems to believe that humans are totally depraved (meaning that every aspect of our existence is affected by selfishness) and sort of sees an original sin idea at the heart of humanity.

Socialism, on the other hand, seems to take the opposite view that individuals are mostly good and want the good but that institutions (such as corporations and the power classes of society) are corrupt.

Many American Christians lean towards a capitalist view, and even make the claim that capitalism has a better theology because it takes into account sin and depravity whereas socialism seems to be naive about human nature.

Here are the two problems that I see: both individuals and institutions are depraved. As well, both are need of redemption. Throughout the Bible God works in two directions: from the bottom up and from the top down. God works through individuals such as prophets to bring repentence to individuals. God also sends these prophets to governors and kings. God sends missionaries to save jailers but also sends these same missionaries to emperors. God seeks to set up governments and laws, transform whole cosmic states such as death, and take on the means and ways of the empire (crucifixion at hands of Rome). God also heals individuals on the road, plays with children, and has three really close friends among the disciples.

The problem with capitalism that I see is that it not only believes in original sin and depravity but also succeeds by thriving on such sin and depravity. It is a philosophy and system built around greed and selfishness and self-interest. It seems to take a non-ethical view of entities (corporations) and believes that the State/government is meant to protect the right of the individual and corporation to amass wealth while promoting self-interested competition. Rather than seeking any means of redemption of the depravity and sin in the world, this system thrives on it. Without such depravity, the system would stop.

The problem with socialism that I see is that it does not accurately view the individual, dismisses any potential for the corporation, and views the state as ultimately good if it redistributes wealth fairly.

Christianity and salvation must have a vision to redeem all of this. Although, we will fall and fail in our attempts to redeem, we must see ourselves as part of the missio dei to redeem all things and see our part as ambassadors of the kingdom of God. This requires a rejection of the socialist system because it leaves no room for redemption of the individual (because it basically sees the individual as good), and leaves no room for the redemption of the the corporation (because it basically sees such entities as inherantly evil). This also requires a rejection of the capitalist system because it does not want the individual, the state, or the corporation to be redeemed. It, instead, thrusts its uninhibted appetites of self-interest on the whole world.

We must believe the entirety of the gospel–that God seeks the redemption of the individual as well as creation. This is done from the bottom-up, as well as from the top-down. It involves the person, the corporation, and the state.

What are your thoughts?

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One thought on “Original Sin, Capitalism, and Socialism

  1. I don’t have a one size fits all solution, but I do think you are on to something. I’ve been rereading Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution and that always messes with me.Until heaven crashes into earth (rev 21), I’m wondering if a pendulum of the two extremes is needed? Sometimes we need the balance of capitalism and at other times a country needs to move towards socialism…

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